Turn up the Happiness!

April 13, 2009

This month I’ve been pondering happiness. What does being “happy” really mean and how can we be happy more often? In fact, how can we be conscious enough to know exactly when we need to turn it up and make it more present? After lots of thought, including looking at my own happiness patterns, I believe it is possible to switch it on at a moments notice. (I don’t know that I’m capable of believing otherwise, but many of you probably know that about me by now! 🙂 )

So, what are those things that tend to turn down our happiness or keep it at bay? There are certain things that may be unique for each of us, but for the most part, these may be some of the culprits:

·        Stress

·        Conflict

·        Overwhelm

·        Sudden change

·        Loneliness

·        Loss or grief

·        Poor health

·        Financial distress

You get the picture, and I’m sure you can add more items to this list. The specifics behind the culprit may not even be that drastic and yet still can bring us into a state of unhappiness. For example, today I woke up feeling a bit under the weather. It took every ounce of energy I had to force myself to get to work. Needless to say, by the time I got home with my energetic four year old, I was a bit frazzled and ready for a break. On a scale from 1 to 10, one being the weakest and 10 the strongest, my “Happy Quotient” (HQ) was about a 6. When I stood in silence for a brief moment to observe the state of my home (the cleaning lady could not come today!!) and how I was feeling, I about lost it. My mind chatter grew stronger and stronger as I realized how chaotic my environment was and how much work I would need to put into my home to get it back to a normal enough state where I could relax and enjoy my time with my daughter and later with my son and husband. My HQ quickly dropped to about a 4. I was upset, not feeling up to par, and not wanting (at all!) to clean up and organize.

How do we pick ourselves up quickly and turn up our HQ? Well, here’s a simple to remember tool that I whipped up that may work for you. And, it happens to be called “H.A.P.P.Y”!  Ask yourself one or more of the following questions when you feel your HQ dropping quickly, and see it rise just in time to put you back into an optimal state.

HopeHow can I be hopeful right now? When we feel frazzled and unhappy, most of the time our mind chatter spirals down into dark, negative thoughts. Instead of thinking “There is no hope for this house today. My weekend will be ruined because I’m going to have to spend all my time cleaning, and then I’ll be exhausted and will have no energy to do anything!”….we should instead question—“Where’s the hope in this situation? It looks like I will need to do the dishes, wash a few loads of laundry, and organize the toys. If I break up these tasks throughout the weekend, including getting one out of the way right now, I should be able have the kind of weekend I envisioned!” See the difference? The moment you shift your thoughts from despair to hope, your feelings follow right along and pick you up.

Acceptance & AppreciationHow can accepting this situation help me? What about this situation can I be grateful for? I threw in two “A”s for this one, because I feel they are equally important. In Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, Tolle explains the power of “awakened doing”, that is, being fully engaged (conscious) in what you are doing. According to Tolle there are three modalities of awakened doing: (1) acceptance, (2) enjoyment, and (3) enthusiasm. Each one represents a certain vibrational frequency of consciousness. In essence, at least one of these needs to be operating at all times whenever you are engaged in doing anything. If not, then we are most likely creating suffering for ourselves and others, or unhappiness. Tolle concludes this idea by saying that “On the surface, acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it is active and creative because it brings something entirely new into the world”—peace, subtle energy and surrendered action. So, in moments where you have no desire to be joyful or enthusiastic, employ acceptance and you’ll be bringing peace and surrender to the situation.

Here’s another example to make this more clear. Let’s say I decided that doing the dishes would alleviate some of my stress. So, instead of cursing the act of doing the dishes, therefore adding more negativity to my mood, I can accept the chore and bring more peace to myself and the situation. Make sense? Please comment if it doesn’t and we can chat more about this.

What about appreciation? There is an opportunity in everything—both good and bad. Ponder upon what’s conflicting you and brainstorm about what good can come from it, or what learning may be behind it. I challenge you to find the opportunities behind these issues that bring you down. Using the same example, I realized that my problem seemed much larger than it was because I was not feeling well. I also became very grateful for the dirty dishes and laundry because I knew that many others didn’t even have a home in which to live. Grateful I became quickly!

PatienceHow can I bring patience to the situation? Is it realistic to drive up your emotions when some things are not within your control? In my case, do I need to do everything right now? What can wait? Feeling sick was not within my control, and therefore, it may suit me (and everyone in my family!) to get some rest before tackling these tasks.

Let’s say you had an argument with your significant other and are very eager to state your feelings and get the conflict resolved. If you are angry in the moment, how do you think the conversation will go? Would it be better to create some space between your intended discussion to think of what and how you will communicate to him/her? Patience provides this space, and most of the time, a more positive outcome.

PerseveranceHow can I persist; rise above? Some situations that keep us from feeling happy are difficult and may not be resolved as quickly as we’d like. For example, perhaps you are dealing with a very sick relative and you are anticipating their loss. The feeling of loss is one that can easily permeate throughout all areas of your life. Understanding what healing you can bring to the situation and creating within you a feeling of fight and survival can really pull you through. We may not know what the outcome will be, but wouldn’t it feel better to intend a positive result? Perseverance can lift our spirits, and therefore our HQ, because we are fighting for something that is worth our time and attention, regardless of how negative it may seem in the moment. Remember, when the going gets tough, the tough get going!

You!How are YOU responsible for your unhappiness? This is my favorite. The key to happiness is within each of us…its power is within YOU! We have all heard this before, but it is always worth repeating and believing it—the only person that can make you happy is YOU. We must take personal responsibility for our thoughts, feelings and actions. Understanding how our thoughts often sink us is important. YOU create your thoughts…so create powerful and empowering thoughts in every moment for many happy moments!

Interestingly enough, you also can do something as simple as smiling to lift your spirits. Oprah magazine (May 2009) has a great article about happiness. In it, the author explains how when we smile or even sigh (release), our Vagus nerve is working behind the scenes to reduce our heart rate and calm our immune response. Cool! No wonder smiling feels good.

Additionally, the article sites the importance of the hormone Oxytocin, which releases when we do things like watch sentimental commercials or laugh at funny tv shows. It is the hormone that uplifts us. Ahh! Evidence that we can do nothing— sit on the couch, eat popcorn, and watch funny movies ,or cry at heart tugging commercials! 

So, although happiness can be explained scientifically (via the Vagus Nerve and the creation of Oxytocin) and we can cause it by smiling and laughing, we also can drive happiness in our lives by paying close attention to our thoughts— changing them, and acting upon our new, powerful thoughts.

What new thoughts and actions will you create for your life today? I’d love to hear from you!

In closing, here’s a great quote that is woven into a beautiful dish towel that my amazing friend Lou gifted to me recently—“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself!”

Now, smile, laugh, and go create your fabulous, HAPPY life!